11 Reasons Aruba Keeps Travelers Coming Back for More
For such a small island, Aruba has a big reputation. The tourism board markets it as "one happy island" -- but what makes this 21-mile-long island near the coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean such a tourist draw?
Is it the beaches, which all open to the public and ranked among the Caribbean's best by TripAdvisor readers?
Is it something in the water? (Because there's no natural fresh source on the island, all of the water in Aruba is desalinized, making it some of the world's purest.)
Is it the sunny weather and gentle breezes that make weather forecasts remarkably predictable?
The short answer: yes. See for yourself why Aruba boasts one of the highest repeat-guest rates (upwards of 50%) in the Caribbean.
1. It's easy to get to.
With nonstop flights from 12 U.S. cities -- including a new daily JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale beginning on Jan. 4 -- Aruba is one of the easiest-to-reach Caribbean destinations. For quicker processing and less wait time, travelers can fill in and print the arrival ED-card (embarkation-disembarkation card) online before leaving home and clear U.S. customs before leaving Aruba -- that means less time at the airport and more time at the beach. Only two other Caribbean islands have these options.
Aruba accepts U.S. dollars and cars drive on the right side of the road in Aruba, so you can feel comfortable leaving the resort to explore the island. And if you get lost, just go straight -- you'll come back around the island in about 20 miles.
2. The forecast: Sunny and 82 degrees. Again.
One of the few Caribbean islands located outside the hurricane belt, Aruba boasts sun-drenched days with year-round temperatures in the low 80s. It might get slightly warmer in summer (May-October), but nothing crazy.
There's an average of just 16 inches of rain a year -- similar to the Los Angeles average -- with the greatest chance of rain October-January.
And there's cooling trade winds nearly every day that blow east to west. (Check out the native fofoti trees -- they all lean with the prevailing winds.) These breezes make Aruba less humid than neighboring islands.
3. The colorful capital is a must visit.
Conde Nast Traveler readers named Oranjestad, Aruba's capital, one of the top Caribbean cities to visit. You'll find colorful architecture with a Dutch influence, a bustling cruise port and shopping on Main Street. There's a pedestrian-only section and eight malls; some stores close between noon and 2 p.m., and malls close by 6 p.m. There's also a free streetcar for rides between the cruise port and Main Street.
Be sure to pack your camera for the city trip. The restored landmarks, such as Fort Zoutman (Aruba's oldest building, dating back to 1798) and the Willem III Tower (once a lighthouse and public clock tower), are prime opportunities to snap some photographs.
4. Festivals are always happening.
Aruba's social calendar is jam-packed with festivals that highlight its artistic side. Celebrate local culture through music and dance at weekly festivals, such as the Carubbian Festival on Thursdays and Bonbini Aruba Festival on Tuesdays. (That's every week.)
Carnival is a big deal in Aruba, too, and it lasts several weeks. Live it up at Carnival with celebrations nearly every weekend from Jan. 2 - Feb. 8.
5. Eagle Beach is consistently ranked a top Caribbean beach.
The widest beach in Aruba, Eagle Beach often lands near the top of "best beaches" lists -- most recently from TripAdvisor. This white-sand beach is also a home for sea turtles that nest and hatch eggs in protected areas between May and September. Visit during sunset to see this phenomenon.
It's not the only sandy show in town. Palm Beach is a favorite of many, and the backdrop for some of the island's top resorts. On the island's south end, the lagoon of Baby Beach provides a calm, shallow environment for snorkeling, a favorite for families. The east coast is home to secluded beaches like Andicuri (ideal for bodyboarding or kitesurfing) and Black Stone Beach, which is covered with eroded lava pebbles.
The crushed coral and shell composition of the white-sand beaches keep it cool even in the warmest afternoon hours.
6. It's not just about the beach.
Aruba has a rugged side and is also an adventure destination. Arikok National Park makes up nearly 20% of the island, and in some spots in the island's center, you'd think you were in Arizona with the cacti and desert landscape. Rangers give free guided tours as long as you book a day in advance. Or you could opt for a more adventurous 4X4 tour out to Conchi, a natural pool protected from the sea by volcanic rock.
7. You can scuba dive at shipwrecks.
Known as one of the wreck-diving capitals of the Caribbean, Aruba has two World War II shipwrecks that you can scuba dive. The SS Antilla (or ghost ship) is the largest shipwreck in the Caribbean with remains up to 60 feet deep -- part of the ship breaks the ocean's surface too, which is good for snorkelers.
Popular diving locations, shallow reefs and wreck sites can be reached by sail or kayak.
8. There are 300+ prehistoric pictographs.
Search for alcoves, abandoned gold mines, Arawak Indian drawings, ancient caves and otherworldly rock formations on Aruba's eastern and northern ends. Sites at Ayo and Casibari even evoke Stonehenge.
There's no need to bring a flashlight to explore Guadirikiri Cave, as light streams through the ceiling openings, creating an ideal selfie setting. The darker sections of the cave house small bats.
9. And plenty of kid-friendly activities, too.
Water-park fun, banana-boat rides and zip lines are all waiting at De Palm Island, a private family-friendly island that's open for day adventures.
There are animal encounters, too. The butterflies at Butterfly Farm are most active in the morning -- you'll see hundreds flying overhead (some might even land on you). Kids can also hand-feed ostriches and emus at the Aruba Ostrich Farm, and pet donkeys at the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary.
10. Try food from Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.
Aruba cuisine is heavily influenced by Caribbean, Dutch, South American and Indonesian cultures -- just to name a few. And there are more than 100 restaurants on this 20-mile island.
Local delicacies include fresh fish, such as wahoo and barracuda; Indonesian favorites bami and nasi goreng rice; Caribbean stews and Creole sauce;, and Dutch pea soup and thin pancakes. Pair it with a Balashi lager-style beer, the only beer brewed on island.
11. More pristine sunsets than other islands.
Aruba has fewer rain storms than other Caribbean islands, which means there are more pristine sunsets. The best sunset is at the California Lighthouse on the north side of the island. Get there early for a lighthouse tour, it's $8 per person, or make a dinner reservation at El Faro Blanco for uninterrupted sunset views.